Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Love, the most excellent way

Regarding “Exercise Confidence”, the inspired writer reaches a summary point noting in verses 19-21 of Hebrews 10, the main points of his previous argument: (1) we have confident access to God, (2) we have the promise of eternal forgiveness thru Christ’s sacrifice, and (3) we have none other than Jesus Christ as our High Priest.

In light of these three main points, he gives three exhortations in verses 22-25 of Hebrews 10. These are (A) instead of pulling away, move close to from God and Christ because of our confidence that God keep his promise made in the new covenant, (B) consider ways to live in the more excellent way of love (1 Cor 13) and good works (Eph 2:10), and (C) continue meeting together in church.

My preference is to present the above, then focus the conversation on (B) and do what the writer urges us to do—consider ways to practice living in love and doing good works as a result of that love. Remember, love is a character quality, so we must grow in the maturity of our character in that regard.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Exercise Confidence

As we start this week on the lesson, “Exercise Confidence” from Hebrews 10:19-39, I want to mention that preparation is not always a smooth process for me.

I start by reading the material, but for some reason, the main teaching points don’t stick with me. I may end the week with these same points I read at first, but I seem to go thru a process of considering other ideas before finally settling on “my lesson.”

Sometimes I start off very sure about a passage thinking it will be easy to teach. Then as the week progresses my confidence wanes. Visions of how I will present a passage rush thru my mind at first, but later seem inappropriate for some good reason. Eventually, I knuckle down and get very focused on the passage, and try to answer the question “what does this passage say to us today?”

I’m looking forward to exercising confidence this week as I prepare, but the process is an up and down, back and forth journey for me. I’m curious about what works for you?

Friday, October 27, 2006

The promise

Step 5 of "Show Gratitude" focuses on the promise of the new covenant as given in Hebrews 10:17-18. Those in covenant relationship with Jesus Christ are forgiven. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. God does not lie. Hence, don't let the devil, or some big-haired, fast talking 'preacher' put doubts into your mind. That's where the battle takes place, so be renewed by the transforming of your mind in the matter of forgiveness of sin. We will be eternally grateful to God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Sprit!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Clean as a whistle

Using Hebrews 10:11-16, Step 4 of the lesson, “Show Gratitude” calls out our perfection and sanctification (see verse 14). My first thought was to illustrate this by cleaning some dirty pennies in preparation for placing them in a collection, but you may have to use some chemicals in the classroom (dip in dirty and it comes out shinny clean like the TV ad). Does “washed in the blood of Christ” work or is that going too far with this analogy?

A different take on these same verses is to focus on the meaningless repetition of the priestly sacrifice and apply the principle to our use of repetitive prayer (see Matt 6:7). You can have a discussion with members regarding repetitive prayer phrases they hear today.

You could present the origin of the term “Clean as a whistle,” an alteration of the original “Clear as a whistle” phrase. Ask, “What’s so clean about whistles?” Make the comparison that Christians are completely clean and pure because of Christ’s sacrifice even though we may appear only whistle clean here on Earth. Washed in the blood of Christ we are totally righteous before God! Wow!!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Step 3 of “Show Gratitude” is based on Hebrews 10:8-10. The depth of Jesus’ willingness to do God’s will, His commitment to performing the work of the cross, and His heart attitude toward God the Father struck me as I read this passage. Sacrifices under the old covenant were ineffectual, but doing the will of God from the heart brought salvation—Jesus died once for all. In other words, we can praise God for Christ’s sacrifice, which brought forgiveness under the new covenant, but we can also praise Jesus for submitting to suffering as an act of love for God. He willing did what God wanted. God in turn accepted the sacrifice as full payment for our (my) sin, thus sanctifying all who would believe.

Contrast Hebrews10:9b with Mark 14:35-36 and think about Jesus’ prayer. Lead members to see the depth of Christ’s agony in submitting to do the will of the Father. Lead them in a prayer of gratitude for His follow thru and the wonderful consequences for us as a result.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Picture this

Taken from Hebrews 10:1-4, Step 2 of “Show Gratitude” spotlights the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice to cleanse a guilty conscience. Under the new covenant, which we studied last week, we learned that God, who does not lie, promised forgiveness to believers. Praise God for such a guarantee! We can ‘take that promise to the bank’ for sure. The new covenant was established with the blood of Christ when he sacrificed himself, one for all, and once for all.

The LifeWay commentary helps us picture this using a stained shirt (p.93). If someone wants me to describe this in more detail, post a comment and I’ll respond.

As an illustration of the old sacrificial system foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ show a photograph, for example, of a class member. Ask the class to tell what the picture informs them about the class member. They will name a few items, but the details they point out will be incomplete. Then have the REAL class member stand up in front of the class and make the point of how the presence of the real person obsoletes the need for a photograph. Having the real person is more satisfying than a mere photo.

Lastly, you might want to consider the promotion that an upcoming concert gets in advance. Producers show video clips, play song excerpts, and describe what will happen at the event. However, all these simply foreshadow the reality of the actual concert when it does take place. When it does, the reality replaces, or makes obsolete, the old promotional material. In addition, prior to the event, the old promotional material was never satisfying. Right? The clips weren’t long enough, or right song parts weren’t played, etc. However, when the real event does happen everyone who attends is completely satisfied. Similarly, what the old sacrificial system only pictured and could not satisfy was revealed in the superior sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thank God for His promise of forgiveness through Christ Jesus!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Show gratitude

Yesterday, I was again reminded of how important it is to be clear when we teach the Scriptures. I was prepared to teach the lesson “Tell the Truth” as outlined in the LifeWay quarterly, however, the following situation occurred early in the class.

I ask members to describe the Mosaic covenant, and with some help, they generally described the agreement made between God and the Israelites in Exodus 19. Moreover, they were quick to point out that the Israelites failed to obey the Law. Hence, the covenant was broken. Then I read Luke 22:20 and asked them to describe the new covenant Jesus instituted with His death. I received lots of answers, but only one was specifically on point.

It dawned on me at that moment (Holy Spirit’s leading) to make sure that every member could clearly state the promise of the new covenant. I essentially chunked the Lifeway lesson I had planned and focused on one basic teaching—what is the new covenant. We contrasted the old and new covenants as outlined in the iLumina Bible, which was very helpful.

Many people came up afterwards to tell me how much they appreciated the clarity of the lesson. They never sensed that I changed horses midstream. Most of the lesson I intended to teach ended up on the “cutting room floor” and what remained turned out to be very clear.

In hindsight, the LikeWay lesson as outlined included too much material and would have been impossible to cover, except only in a “drive by fashion”. I like the fact that this week’s lesson Show Gratitude, from Hebrews 10:1-4,8-18, doesn’t try to cover as much material.

Let me end this post by saying that it’s more important that members firmly grasp basic teachings such as the old verses new covenants than it is to only conceptually grasp a broad range of topics, which last week’s lesson certainly presented good opportunity to do. And even as we teach, be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in the classroom!

What was your experience in the classroom on Sunday?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Live life to the full!

Last evening we saw the play “Outward Bound”, which makes the point that we all face judgment after we die. After realizing they are dead and on a ship headed to a place of judgment, the fictitious characters grapple with how to deal with, or manage their upcoming meeting with an ‘examiner’. The hard-hearted businessman, the uppity socialite, the priest, the drunk, and the chambermaid all struggled with and plotted how that conversation might go.

The scene reminds me of Hebrews 9:27, which is covered in Step 3 of our lesson this week—“Tell the Truth”. The play offered insights into a judgment scene that were a bit unnerving at times. It leads one to ask, what will I say when that day comes in my life?

The play also makes the point that how we live life is just as important as how we face judgment after death. Christ allowed himself to be sacrificed on a cross and experience an indescribable suffering and separation from God the Father and the Holy Spirit so that we can live life to the full.

The LifeWay quarterly material suggests using a credit card as an illustration of how we incur debt that must be paid later in full. Marvelously, Jesus paid our sin debt by his once-for-all sacrifice. Praise God!

To carry the credit card illustration further, note that just as we immediately enjoy the benefits of a credit card purchase, we also today can immediately enjoy the blessings of an abundant life offered in Christ as a result of His sacrifice!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Barriers removed

On Step 3 of the “Tell the Truth”, our lesson from Hebrews 8:6b-9:10, I’m working to mentally grasp the argument concerning Jesus’ superior priesthood, but I’m overwhelmed with all the background details (covenants, priestly duties, temple worship, etc). Whew! To distill all that down to a few key points so that members can articulate the writer's argument is a key barrier to cross!

Speaking of barriers, under the old covenant, I cannot imagine the hurdles an individual Jew faced if he wanted to individually worship the Living God. God is interested in personal relationship and under the new covenant the barriers that once existed are now gone. As I read these verses I think about the obstacles removed when Christ established a new covenant.

What is a simple way to illustrate the removal of barriers? Members might relate to passage of the American’s with Disabilities Act, which called for the removal of physical barriers for handicapped citizens. Any other ideas?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Now you’re talking!

Step 2 of “Tell the Truth” concentrates on Hebrews 8:1-2,6a, which makes the point that Jesus is the kind of priest we need because he finished His work (sat down), occupies a position of power and authority (at the right of God), and makes intersession for us where God really is (true tabernacle). In short, His ministry is superior. Why look elsewhere?

Before you can argue the superiority of Jesus’ ministry you need to be convinced of it yourself. What does the writer of Hebrews say that is compelling to you?

Questions to myself:

The writer of Hebrews knew a lot about the Levitical priesthood and was able to contrast it with the priesthood of Jesus. In the case of other religious systems, how knowledgeable about them must I be before I can claim the superiority of Jesus’ ministry?

If the writer of Hebrews practiced the “live and let live” philosophy of today’s world, he would not have written to the Hebrews in the first place (out of ‘respect’ for their religion). After all, it was their personal choice to turn back to Judaism. Right? Moreover, if I don’t believe there are negative consequences for the choices others make, then who cares if someone, for example, decides to worship a cow, self flagellate, or achieve some higher state?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tell the Truth

Based on two chapters of Hebrews, this week’s lesson “Tell the Truth” presents a lot of ground to cover. I will try to narrow my focus on just the key points that help members articulate the argument the writer of Hebrews makes in Hebrews 8:1-9:28. My first take is that the writer is emphasizing a “new way” over an ineffective previous system. The Hebrew Christians wanted to return to their former religious system, which was powerless. God instituted a new covenant and a “new way” in Christ.

In our society we are constantly bombarded with new ways to do just about everything. Google news “new way” and you’ll see what I mean. When you hear of a new way of doing something, what is your first response? How do you react when you learn there is a new way to approach something that sounds too good to be true? How do you think the Hebrew Christians might have reacted when the writer of Hebrews spelled out for them the new way in Christ and its superiority over the priestly system they to which they wanted to return?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Perfect = mature

To close this lesson on “Live in Hope,” I want to tie back to last week’s lesson “Determine to Mature.” That is, encourage members to apply the certain hope of Jesus’ superior priesthood to enabling Christians to grow in maturity, which was the issue the Hebrew Christians faced.

After reading about and studying the overall context of 7:19 (see 6:1 and 6:3), the idea of perfection referring to maturity seems admissible. The LifeWay Bible Commentary on Hebrews is silent (p 77), while the Adult Leader Guide (p 77) clearly interprets perfection as referring to salvation, not maturity. On the other hand, Dwight Pentecost’s A Faith that Endures (p 124) understands perfection as referring to maturity. Without being dogmatic about it, I think I can mention both ideas and then focus on the maturity aspect.

In my rush, I forgot to publish last month's traffic and visitor update. It follows below. God is good!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Secure hope

Step 4 of “Live in Hope” highlights the secure nature of the hope God has set before us: Jesus’ priesthood is forever (see verse 28 in the passage Hebrews 7:23-28). He declared by oath that our redeemer Jesus Christ, who lives forever, continuously performs the priestly duty of interceding for us (prays for our protection, our sanctification, and our unity with each other and Him). God cannot change His mind. He does not lie.

There is no greater security than the hope God offers in Jesus Christ. Our hold (belief that God does not lie) on this hope (Jesus Christ) is like an unbreakable chained tied to an immoveable anchor. Taking off on yesterday’s “bent can” illustration, we select the 'perfect' can because we trust it, whereas who knows what we’ll get if we rely on a damaged can.

I may use the illustration of a tent stake since I tent camp. The stake is below ground and I can’t see it work, but in a high wind, it does its job of keeping the tent secure.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Damaged goods

Step 3 of “Live in Hope” draws its point from Hebrews 7:15-22, skipping the first 14 verses of Hebrews 7. We’ve all seen a grocery store place damaged items on sale. The items are marred in some way and consumers simply won’t buy them at full price even though the contents are still okay. To illustrate the main idea in Step 3, let members choose from a set of sample items (some of which are damaged) and see which ones they select. Afterwards, ask, "when it comes to choosing between the hope offered in Christ verses that offered by some other means, why would you settle for damaged goods?"

Does this illustration make sense to you?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why should we be patient?

The Lord’s will for us is to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and by practice train our senses to distinguish good and evil. God allows our maturity to be tested and our failure can bring disappointment. Living out the Word of God in our lives will bring maturity, but it is discouraging when we move backwards like the Hebrew Christians. Do you ever get impatient and frustrated at your lack of progress toward spiritual maturity? If so, take heart in what the writer of Hebrews has to say.

Believers have faith in Christ, but we need the patience of Abraham mentioned in Hebrews 6:15-20, the focal verses for Step 2 of this week’s lesson “Live in Hope”. We can have patience for the same reason Abraham did. God cannot lie! What He has promised is true already and “set before us” for the taking.

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to grasp and hold on to this hope: Jesus has already entered God’s presence and as our High Priest, His sacrifice enables us to enter God’s presence in heaven. What a glorious day that will be! Our spiritual maturity will come, God willing, with patient endurance.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Live in Hope

The background passage for this week’s lesson “Live in Hope” is Hebrews 6:13-7:28. The Hebrew Christians were not mature and needed milk instead of solid food. In this passage, the writer hands them a “spiritual turkey leg” to chew on as he discusses the priesthood of Jesus and Melchizedek. He certainly left behind the elementary teachings and moved on to more mature matters about Christ!!

If you search Google news using the phrase “live in hope” you’ll notice right away that it’s used as an idiom, i.e. as a peculiar way to express an optimistic outlook. Make you a top ten list from the examples. Start by asking members to: Complete the sentence “I live in hope for _________________,” then show your list. Introduce the lesson noting that we live in hope because of Jesus’ priesthood.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Determine to grow in maturity

This lesson “Determine to Mature” closes with Hebrews 6:9-12. Verse 9 is an encouraging word since the writer expresses his confidence in the Hebrew Christians.

Verse 10 is clear evidence that salvation is not the focus of chapter 6 since the writer more than anyone understands salvation is by faith, not works. However, Christians do work in service to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-16). The writer wants them to be diligent as they were in the beginning, and not become lazy in their service to Christ.

We all have stories of receiving generally bad customer service at some time or another. Remind members of this and ask, “What is the cause of such poor service?” After listening and noting their responses, make the comparison that God wants Christians to bear “fruit” and not “thorns.”

Christians are not to be lazy and uncaring, but to be diligent and faithful so as to grow in maturity. You might want to show a picture of a puzzle and ask members, “What’s missing that would help you determine to grow in maturity?”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

And the results are...?

Step 3 tackles verses 6:1-8 in Hebrews with a focus on warning immature believers of their need to grow beyond basic teachings about Jesus Christ. They need to “Determine to Mature”, or risk losing earthly blessings, or heavenly rewards (see this post also).

It’s interesting to note that these Fan’s Pay No Attention to Warnings. The question is will we heed the warning we read in Hebrews 6:4-6?

Verses 7-8 illustrate that “consuming” God’s blessing has two outcomes—one is good, the other is evil. Ask members to consider the results of God’s manifold blessings in their lives today. Are the results good, or evil?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Determine to Mature

This week’s lesson, “Determine to Mature” speaks personally to all of us since God’s will for us is to grow in maturity (cf. Eph 4:11-16). We need maturity to properly deal with the focal verses in chapter 6.

Step 2 of the lesson starts with Hebrews 5:11-14. I’m amazed at the relationship between the writer of Hebrews and his immature Christian Hebrew readers. Mind you they were adults, but he had the freedom to speak very bluntly to them as children: “you have become slow to understand.” (see also v12).

Can you imagine saying that to adults today? Feeling insulted, most would up and leave after an insinuation let alone such a direct statement. He said the Hebrew Christians “have become slow” implying they are regressing. That it, these Christians were once quick learners and grew fast, but now they are going backwards.

To illustrate this regression, J. Dwight Pentecost in his book “A Faith That Endures” likens the Hebrew Christians to adults that have put on children clothes. Maybe we could show a photo of an adult dressed as a child and ask what’s wrong with this picture?